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Stop the Stress

stop college application stressPost By Mimi Doe

The New York Times reported data from a new survey that indicates a high level of stress in high school students during their senior year.

The article notes: High numbers of students are beginning college having felt depressed and overwhelmed during the previous year, according to an annual survey released on Thursday, reinforcing some experts’ concern about the emotional health of college freshmen.

The lead author on the research, Kevin Eagan, summed up the responses of over 15,000 students as possibly hinging on stress around college admissions: “Students may be getting the message that they have to take the last year of high school more seriously to get into college, so they’re coming in with greater levels of anxiety,”

“It’s a public health issue,” said Dr. Anthony L. Rostain, a psychiatrist and co-chairman of a University of Pennsylvania task force on students’ emotional health. I wish Dr. Rostain would take a walk over to the U Penn admissions office and share this information with them. Colleges are partly at fault for creating much of the unnecessary stress around admissions by not being transparent with admissions requirements.

The very reason I wrote the book, Don’t Worry You’ll Get In with Dr. Michele Hernandez eleven years ago and launched our Application Boot Camps  was to help lessen the stress around the college admissions process to make it less confusing and give students and parents a clear plan. My research with 1,500 families noted college admissions stress as one of the top 5 things that caused their families anxiety.

College admissions doesn’t have to be this stressful. If colleges would be more clear and honest – If the Ivies would just SAY that if your SAT scores are below 700 don’t apply, or if you are Asian, your scores had better be in the high 700s, then students wouldn’t waste an early application with a “hope” of getting in.

The myths that float around about admissions also cause misinformation and stress. Kids think they need to run themselves ragged all in the name of “getting in.” Not so. We work with students so that they focus on their main academic interests and sharpen those, dropping all the many random things they do and don’t care about since participating in a bunch of unrelated activities won’t help in admissions. We cut through the chatter and educate students on what the “real” requirements are for specific schools, not necessarily what they might have heard from a friend or a college Info Session.

We worked with a young woman who spent 13 hours a week playing JV volleyball. She HATED volleyball and at 5’2” was never going to be recruited for the sport. Once we gave her permission to stop playing and instead devote her time to her real interest – building computers – she was in heaven AND became a high impact candidate at top colleges because of what she did with that computer science interest.

So, I applaud the new study reported by The New York Times. Yes, kids are stressed out in high school. But, senior year should be a more relaxed time because the majority of the preparation for college really happens freshman, sophomore and junior years. That’s when students are making choices about which classes they take, how they spend their time outside of class, how prepared for standardized tests they are and which tests they take – meaning more than schools require. When a student applies early to college (November 1 or 15th) it’s their record up until the end of junior year that will be presented to colleges.

Knowledge is power and student stress is lessened with a plan crafted their freshman year and a real understanding of what is and isn’t the truth around unofficial admissions requirements at specific schools of interest to them.

What would I say to a high school student? Take a deep breath….learn the truth about admissions……then with a plan…..do what you love academically at a high level and enjoy your high school years rather than stressing about things that really are under your control.

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